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Remarks of Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division John C. Demers on the Iran Forfeiture Actions


Washington, DC
United States

Good morning.  Today, I am joined by Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin and the State Department’s Special Representative for Iran and Venezuela Elliott Abrams to announce two civil seizure court actions that have disrupted malign, and in one instance, potentially deadly, activities undertaken by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-Quds Force, a Foreign Terrorist Organization.  Special Representative Abrams will also be announcing sanctions that the State Department and the Department of the Treasury have imposed on the responsible individuals and entities.

First, in November 2019 and February 2020, two U.S. warships – the USS Forrest Sherman and the USS Normandy – while conducting routine maritime security operations in the Arabian Sea, interdicted two flagless vessels.  Aboard both of the vessels were large stocks of weapons, including 171 guided anti-tank missiles, eight surface-to-air missiles, and various other missile components.  Subsequent investigation revealed the ships’ cargo to be of Iranian manufacture and consistent with known Iranian weapon systems.  Additional analysis revealed that the arms were from the IRCG-Quds Force and destined for militant groups in Yemen.  On Aug. 20, 2020, the National Security Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia filed a complaint in U.S. District Court seeking to forfeit the seized weapons.

On July 20, 2020, the National Security Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia filed the second action, a complaint in U.S. district court seeking to forfeit approximately 1.1 million barrels of Iranian refined petroleum from four foreign-flagged vessels bound for Venezuela.  The proceeds from the sale of the petroleum benefitted the IRGC.  In August 2020, the District Court issued a warrant for arrest in rem of the cargo.  Upon being presented with the court’s seizure order, the ships’ owner transferred the petroleum to the government, and we can now announce that the United States has sold and delivered that petroleum.

The two forfeiture complaints allege sophisticated schemes by the IRGC to secretly ship weapons to Yemen and fuel to Venezuela, countries that pose grave threats to the security and stability of their regions.  These actions represent the government’s largest-ever civil seizures of fuel and weapons from Iran.  Iran continues to be a leading state sponsor of terrorism and a worldwide destabilizing force.  It is therefore with great satisfaction that I can announce that our intentions are to take the funds successfully forfeited from the fuel sales and provide them to the U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund after the conclusion of the case.

These cases also highlight that enforcement of the sanctions against Iran remains one of the department’s national security priorities.  For the last several years, cases involving Iran’s efforts to evade the restrictions designed to curb its malign conduct comprise more than 40 percent of the export control and sanctions prosecutions that the department brings.  High-profile matters such as the prosecutions of foreign banks like Standard Chartered or Halkbank for handling prohibited U.S. dollar transactions or the prosecution of ZTE for using U.S. origin goods to build Iran’s telecommunications networks are only some of the excellent work that the department’s prosecutors and its law enforcement partners have done.  With these seizure actions, we are expanding our tool box to combat Iran’s bad behavior.

I would like to thank prosecutors from the National Security Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for their work on both of these matters.  I would further like to thank the U.S. Navy Central Command for successfully executing the seizures of the weapons at sea and Homeland Security Investigations and Defense Criminal Investigative Services for the subsequent investigation revealing the ties to the IRGC-Quds Force.  Last, I would like to thank Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI for their excellent assistance investigating the facts leading to the petroleum seizures.

U.S. Attorney Sherwin. 

National Security
Updated October 29, 2020